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Old Oct 10, 2009, 6:07pm   #1
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Default A suggestion for hand reading

So, there seems to be quite a few beginners consistently posting in this section, compared to the 1 or 2 in the nl forums, so I figured I should take some time to try to be helpful.

One of the things that took me a long time to really get used to do was hand reading. I am a mathematical person, so it was easy to see things in ranges and +ev/-ev moves, but I'd get so focused on proper strategy that I'd sorta forget I'm supposed to be able to narrow down my opponents range as the hand goes on.

So I developed a little system to help me, and I figured I'd share. It's simple, and once you apply it for a while you forget you are actually doing it. I called it the guess and check system.

Basically, most of you have probably played enough to not have to think a ton about your own plays relative to your cards. It should be apparent that a given hand you hit or didn't requires certain action. You'll adjust those actions as you learn more, but I won't focus on that in this post. Essentially, what you aim to do in learning to read your opponents to put them on a range, is at every street on the flop and later to guess what their action will be.

It sounds simple, because it is. You simply watch, guess what their action might be, and adjust their range accordingly. If you are right it reinforces whatever read you have of them, and you can certainly give them credit for what they represent. If it doesn't, you may want to go back and analyze and find out if that was your error in perception or theirs in trying to represent a line that didn't make sense.

This is easiest to explain with examples, so I'll do that.

UTG raises 3xbb, CO calls, we call from the button.


First, what can we glean? Well, UTG has the strongest range out of all of us, since he is raising the fewest hands. CO could simply be calling with sc or pp or all kinds of things thinking to get position heads up. We'll pay attention to what they do on the flop.

Flop comes AhJc7h

So, UTG to act, guess what he is going to do. You do this by thinking of his raise range preflop. An ace is a large part of his range, and he was the initial raiser, so my guess is he is going to bet.

If he bets:

Ok, he reinforced our read, meaning we should probably give him credit here. He might be just c-betting, but into 2 people is less likely than him simply having a hand that warrants a bet.

If he checks:

Interesting, we assumed a bet would happen given his range, but it didn't. Two possibilities strike me, either he hit some sort of draw and wants to get paid by two people, or he missed completely and doesn't want to bet into 2 people. This flop should have nailed his range, but it is possible he had something like TT, QQ-KK and is now afraid of overcards. We can probably take a single ace pair out of his range, since he has no reason not to bet that against two people with a flush draw. It'd be a terrible blunder.

CO to act, guess his action:

CO will be hard to judge until later in the hand, because his opening range is so wide from the CO. He likely doesn't have a premium (QQ-AA) otherwise you'd expect a reraise pf, but it is possible. He could also be playing lots of sc, pp, suited aces, w/e. This board is full of stuff that could hit or miss him, so we don't know much.

For the sake of moving on, we'll assume flop went UTG bet, CO folded, we called.

Turn comes 2s


Well, CO probably was calling pf wide like we thought, and simply didn't catch enough of a piece to stick around. UTG probably has at least an ace or a strong draw, but other things are possible. This turn shouldn't effect action at all, so if UTG thought he was ahead on the flop he should still think so. I think he bets here since the board still is pretty drawy.

UTG bets:

Well, that pretty much solidified for me that he has an ace or better. A draw is possible, but unless he has reason to think we'll fold to a second barrel instead of going for the free card he doesn't need to bet there. My range for him is down to an ace, 2p, set, or possible combo draw that is damn strong. Most weight of that is in an ace or 2p.

If UTG checks:


So he bet the flop, we expected him to bet the turn and he checked. No reason to check an ace or 2p there, he might be checking thinking we are weak and will fold to a bet, and he wants his set to get paid, but unless he has a reason to think we'll try to steal it's not likely. A check makes me modify his range to a draw or a weak made hand. This could include something like AQ, with his rational being I'm not going to call three streets with worse, so he'll check and open up my range on the river. If I checked behind and he bet the river on a brick, that'd be my guess to his range. A weakish made hand that doesn't want to bet three streets, thinking only something better will call. I might simply fold my worse hands call with my better here, or if I think he is capable of folding, I might go ahead and raise the river a good margin, and try to fold out that portion of his range I think he is mostly playing. This is the key to bluffing btw, not just randomly raising hoping for folds but actually raising to fold a specific range of his hands, thinking that he'll fold enough to make it profitable.
We'll say he bets and we call and river is another brick.

I'd guess he bets with 2p-set and maybe AK. Checks his missed draws most times, and his weaker aces.

If he bets:

I'm assuming he is strong here, and his range is very narrowed down. He isn't just firing three streets for no reason, so he likely has me beat here.

If he checks:

I'll assume if I have a hand like AQ I might be able to check behind here with some showdown equity, so I'll probably do that. He has no reason to not bet his strong hands here, so he likely is semi-weak or missed a draw playing aggressively. He won't likely call a bet with either, so a check will maximize my profit.


It seems cumbersome, but you end up doing it so fast after you get used to doing it that you don't even notice. My favorite thing about this system is that it allows me to detect bluffs I might not usually take. Lets say I'm playing against Joshuasit here:

He posted this hand earlier about a bluff, I'll use it as an example.

Quote:
Full Tilt Poker Game #15070578988: $2 + $0.25 Sit & Go (110514171), Table 9 - 60/120 - No Limit Hold'em - 9:15:38 ET - 2009/10/02
Seat 1: EspoVokP (6,135) joshuasit
Seat 2: Doghammer (2,415)
Seat 3: stuartmaca1 (6,704) me for this analysis.
Seat 4: bengemesch (3,669)
Seat 5: susan555 (6,090)
Seat 6: kussh42o (3,852)
Seat 8: rypied (1,175)
Seat 9: Diablerize (2,540)
EspoVokP posts the small blind of 60
Doghammer posts the big blind of 120
The button is in seat #9
*** HOLE CARDS ***
Dealt to EspoVokP [some cards]
stuartmaca1 calls 120 I wouldn't limp UTG, but meh.
bengemesch folds
susan555 folds
utojoe67 sits down
utojoe67 adds 975
utojoe67 is sitting out
kussh42o calls 120
rypied folds
Diablerize folds
EspoVokP calls 60
Doghammer checks
*** FLOP *** [6s 9h 2h] Two callers, not much to say about ranges since I limped and they called, one out of the sb.
EspoVokP checks
Doghammer has 15 seconds left to act
Doghammer checks
stuartmaca1 has 15 seconds left to act
stuartmaca1 bets 240 They both check, I might be ok here to bet even with nothing. The board was pretty garbage.
kussh42o folds
EspoVokP has 15 seconds left to act
EspoVokP calls 240 Interesting, so he is calling here. Makes me thing he has either a heart draw, or possibly a weak pair thinking I'm fos.
Doghammer folds
*** TURN *** [6s 9h 2h] [Ad] An ace on the turn, this should have missed most of our ranges since we all limp/called pf, and the action on the flop leads me to think the only real ace hand playing there is Axh. I'd guess Joshua would probably check again, his position shouldn't have changed much on the flop.
EspoVokP bets 960 Whoa, that is interesting. Why is he c/c the flop and leading out an ace on the turn? His range for a c/c on the flop is probably a draw, or maybe a hand he is pretty weak with and wants to show down. He has no reason not to bet an overpair (TT+) or top pair/2p/set. So basically his line isn't making sense to me, cause it only fits something like A9, A6, Axh. Thats a strange range given that he flat called the sb to 2 limpers. See bottom:
stuartmaca1 has 15 seconds left to act
stuartmaca1 folds
Uncalled bet of 960 returned to EspoVokP
EspoVokP mucks
EspoVokP wins the pot (960)
*** SUMMARY ***
Total pot 960 | Rake 0
Board: [6s 9h 2h Ad]
Seat 1: EspoVokP (small blind) collected (960), mucked
Seat 2: Doghammer (big blind) folded on the Flop
Seat 3: stuartmaca1 folded on the Turn
Seat 4: bengemesch didn't bet (folded)
Seat 5: susan555 didn't bet (folded)
Seat 6: kussh42o folded on the Flop
Seat 8: rypied didn't bet (folded)
Seat 9: Diablerize (button) didn't bet (folded)
So, based on the range I was putting his action on, his turn big bet didn't make sense for most of the hands he was on. Either he has a very small range of hands, or he thought hey, an ace, I bet this card scares people so I'll bet and bluff. I do not give him credit for a pair of aces here like ever. It just doesn't make sense.

You can use the same reasoning to analyze your own bluffs. I bet here, checked here, I was the raiser UTG+1 pf, does betting on the river here make sense and if so with what hands? What would my opponents likely put me on? Even if you feel like a bet would put your opponents range in a bad spot, you may not be believable if your previous action doesn't line up with what you are trying to rep by the river.

Anyway, this is way longer than I meant it to be, but hopefully it isn't too hard to understand. You need to master being able to read your opponents hands, and recognize your own lines in order to move up. This is the way I used, though I'm sure there are others. Good luck at the tables.
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Old Oct 10, 2009, 8:21pm   #2
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Good post, kmay. It was cool of you to go to this sort of effort.
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Old Oct 10, 2009, 9:13pm   #3
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Good post.

What I would add, because you didn't say it in so many words, is that the most important element of any hand is your opponent's range. The first thing you want to think about on the flop is; what hands are in my opponent's range, how does this flop connect with that range. What you're holding is of secondary importance. Similarly on the turn, you want to ask how that card improved your opponent's range before thinking about what it did for you, even when you're on a draw and the turn completes your draw, you want to know how your opponent feels about the card before considering your own action.

Every time your opponent acts, whether he checks, bets, raises or calls, he is giving you information about his hand. In your example, the cutoff calls the under the gun raise and we can easily eliminate AA-QQ and almost certainly AK from his range because we expect pretty much everyone to reraise those hands. But consider also the cutoff's stats (assuming you're maintaining a database). Give the cutoff a VP$IP of 18%, a PFR of 16% and a 3bet from mid position of 8% over 2000 hands. This player's call has told you far more about his range than an unknown player's would. There are very few hands that this player will flat call with in position. He much prefers to reraise the hands he will play rather than call with them. His call narrows his range down to speculative hands that flop hard or miss completely. He's showing up with a 1 gap suited connector or a mediumish pocket pair.

Having considered your opponents' ranges, the next important thing to think about is the range they have you on. Lets look at your example from UTG's point of view. You overcalled preflop on the button so your range is very wide. You're probably reraising with AA-QQ and AK, of course, and you're probably calling every reasonable drawing hand down to about 98o and 75s/54s, every pocket pair and most combinations of broadway cards. On the AhJx7h flop you flat called his bet, for simplicity's sake we'll assume you never float, so you can legitimately have an ace or a jack with a good kicker or two pair, a set of 7s or a heart draw. Very rarely you might take a card off with something like KhQx or 88.

He bet again on the brick turn which eliminates the KQ and 88 type nonsense. You would be hard pressed to continue with a jack but you probably will call him with an ace. Unless his bet was monsterously big you'd keep going with the heart draw. AJ or 77 would probably be raising here if they haven't already, so you're less likely to have those when you call on the turn. When the river comes a brick the question is how to get value from the hands you beat and minimise the damage from hands that beat us. UTG looks down at his AQ and realises that there are virtually no hands in your range that can call on the river, a jack definitely isn't calling three streets, the busted flush draw is gone, and even AT would be hard pressed to play. Betting is pretty ugly here, you're almost never getting called by worse and getting raised would be a disaster. Checking on the other hand invites value because there are a number of hands you might bluff with recognising that you have very little or no showdown value. Checking could induce a bluff from the busted flush draw or a funky jack, you may even mistakenly valuebet your AT.

I'd also like to giving the other side to what you said about bluffing. As you say, a large part of bluffing effectively is recognising when (most of) your opponent's range can't call a bet, it isn't just intimidating people with thunderous wodges of chips. This error is why so many people mistakenly believe that you can't bluff in limit hold'em. This is clearly bollocks otherwise every valuebet would always get called. You can bluff in limit hold'em, you just have to recognise when your opponent's range is hard pressed to call. The smallness of your bet compared to the pot works for you as much as it does against you - you don't have to succeed with your bluffs very often to show a direct profit, but I digress. The other side to bluffing is telling a believable story. When you bluff, you have to represent something that your opponent believes is in your range. Ideally, your bet should narrow your range such that most of your opponent's range is simply no good. If you raise preflop, get called and the flop is checked around, you can represent the A when it comes on the turn. When you call on the turn, the flush draw completes on the river and your opponent shows weakness, you can represent the flush so long as your action on previous streets indicates that the draw is a good chunk of your range.

When I find myself facing a bet that makes no sense, where the opponent isn't telling a believable story and no hand seems to fit his line, I'm heavily inclined to call, most of the time he's just decided on the spur of the moment to bluff, ignoring everything that's happened in the hand up until that point.

Someone else can have a go now. Tomorrow, if you're really good or I get hammered at the tables tonight, I'll lecture you ad nauseum about tilt.

Kc
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Last edited by killcrazy; Oct 10, 2009 at 9:23pm.
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Old Oct 10, 2009, 10:15pm   #4
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One thing I'd add to KC's post, is to keep your reads flexible. Anytime you feel you can write a hand off because "They'd never do such and such", you've just provided a good reason for them to do said "such and such." (barring the play being mathematically non-viable)

You can write off AA for example because they just called the raise from the Cutoff. But thinking players know that if they just call, its going to be hard to put them on AA since everyone almost always raise. And bad players do goofy shit all the time because they are bad and goofy.

The point being don't be afraid to reintroduce a previously eliminated hand back into the mix if the action dictates it, because your opponents goals do not include "do what you expect 100% of the time."

The strategy forums by their nature sort of encourage a formulaic style of play. And while you are rarely wrong to follow a bubbleboy provided line for generic hand history X, know that there are other methods for you to consider and that your opponents will consider to mix it up.
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Old Oct 10, 2009, 10:56pm   #5
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shendo is correct, we should mix our play up from time to time to prevent opponents from being able to read us too easily.

AA is kind of a bad example, the cutoff should never have AA here because he would be inviting overcalls and risking playing a multiway pot, against an UTG raiser he should basically always reraise. However, he might play AK like this occasionally to maximise his value if an A or K flops. On the other hand if UTG raised and the action folded around to the big blind, that player could legitimately flat with AA sometimes, recognising that threebetting against the UTG raiser out of position shows an insane amount of strength and would ruin his action unless he's lucky enough to walk into the absolute top of UTG's range.

And yeah, bad players will do a lot of goofy shit, good players will do some goofy shit from time to time too. More importantly, good players will often appear to be doing goofy shit because they're playing your range rather than their cards

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Old Oct 11, 2009, 3:46am   #6
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Kind of a sidetrack, but some interesting spots to consider flatting AA in the scenario of this thread:

With a couple of the aggressive short stacks acting after me that like to squeeze from the blinds. If its a reg utg with a decent'ish hand like AK or QQ or maybe as weak as TT, you call, and a 20bb shorty from the SB pushes, UTG will definitely call, and may look to isolate...then kapow...you put in the 3rd or 4th raise and are looking at a 40bb pot minimum, and maybe allin preflop for a full stack against the UTG who almost surely wouldn't have been in that position if they were just facing a fellow reg who just 3bet their utg raise.

Another situation is if there are fish in the blinds who would stack off with top pair. With a reg utg, again, the strength of 3betting their raise is so strong, barring AA vs. KK, the profit potential isn't huge because of the 'they know you know they have a good hand, and you're still 3betting." But CoCo the monkey in the small blind who thinks KJ on a jack high board is the nuts is begging to put 75bb in. But he's only willing to pay 3bb preflop, not 10bb.

And naturally, there is full stack threebetters who like the squeeze too. Its become such a popular play lately, I definitely throw it in there from time to time.

And the final perk is if they see you do it, a reg probably takes a note. So maybe they think twice about squeezing when they check said note, and you see a flop cheaper with a small pair that you flatted preflop.

One final point that completely avoids anything to do with this thread entirely, when dealing with shortstacks, make sure to calculate whether or not another raise will be possible if they push allin, and choose your bet sizes accordingly.

If the action goes me, X, short stack with 20bb. If I put in a 9bb raise, and shortstack pushes, I still have the option to raise, as does X. If I put in a 11bb raise, and shorty pushes, we can only call. I think that's the case anyways. Using shortstacks as a weapon against other players I think is a fairly undeveloped concept from what I've read or rather haven't read on the internet.
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Old Oct 11, 2009, 6:13am   #7
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Ehhh emmm.... beginners forum.

Good discussion though, but might want to move the complicated stuff to a diff thread so people don't get overwhelmed when they don't understand some basic concepts required to understand why flatting AA might be ok in some spots.
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Old Oct 11, 2009, 2:56pm   #8
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The only thing I would like to add to this (and I apologize if I glossed over somebody else saying it), is that when somebody does something that runs counter to what you thought was possible, when somebody confounds your hand-reading, TAKE A NOTE!

When you're beginning, your hand-reading is likely not very good (hell, neither is mine). But the only way it improves is by paying attention and gradually refining your subconscious ideas of what is plausible (I'm not saying you should be playing unconsciously).

Taking a note doesn't mean just what the action was and what the opponent showed up with, it means drawing conclusions from a hand or a set of hands. When you're facing an all-in on the river holding tptk on a draw heavy flop that blanked out, you're not going to go review 7 notes like "CMR 97 on 97xtt, lead 2o 1/5 and riv 1/4," but you will get a lot of mileage of a note that says "bets small for value on all streets." Bet-sizing tells are rampant, btw.

And, uh, yeah. That's my small contribution to the thread.
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Old Oct 11, 2009, 5:31pm   #9
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+1, i have a note on basically everyone i've played more than 500 hands with.

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Old Oct 12, 2009, 6:36am   #10
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Good thread.

I am expecting however, KC to recieve a Nobel Prize soon. Since returning about 12 hours ago, he has resembled a black president. Always at his best with a sarcastic one liner, he has now moved on to epistles. The gospel according to. If Ozone does a 5 most overappreciated pokertips list next shuffle, I'd grant KC the first 4 spots.

I'd advise God to reconsider 2012, as Jesus might have a tuff time topping the Second Coming of Killcrazy. Though I am seriously praying for an intermission soon.
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